In American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis tells the story of a young and rich businessman and of his daily (and nightly) life in Manhattan; His being exhaustively methodical leads to the novel being abundant with adjectives, lists, and descriptions. Patrick Bateman could, for all we know, be one of the unnamed characters in The National's Alligator-Boxer-Violet trilogy; and seeing Matt Berninger on a stage, lost in the world of his head and in the music, speaking to no one, almost failing to notice the audience in front of him, reinforces this theory.
There is something unsettling about him; he is a world of contradictions, and as he appears in his suit, neither smiling nor completely inexpressive, he doesn't acknowledge much of what is surrounding him. There is the microphone, which he grabs right away, leaving the talking up to his band mates; "we expected something, something better than before, we expected something more", he starts singing. Start a War is a perfect opener on this slightly rainy August day and like an entirely choreographed gesture, as he turns to the drums halfway through the song and lowers his head, the rain starts. At this point, the crowd already fluctuates between cheering and staring in awe; during the hypnotic Anyone's Ghost, the catchy Bloodbuzz Ohio and Mistaken for Strangers, the band's vocalist often leaves the front of the stage in favour of the space in front of Bryan's drum-kit, pacing and twirling like a restless child, twisting his mouth and his hands as he does so.
The real first surprise (or 'hope', for those who are familiar with their early work) of the evening comes halfway through Secret Meeting, as Matt trades his monotone voice for sudden screaming. From that point on, parallel to a Mr. Bateman of sorts, Mr. Berninger is also a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, mixing images of perfect ("You're the only thing I ever want anymore", Conversation 16) and protective love ("I defend my family", Afraid of Everyone) getting tangled in a net of obsessive-compulsive, anxious paranoia. His voice almost breaks from screaming the first lines of Abel, he kicks the mic to the floor after England, picks it up again on time to sing over a trombone in Fake Empire, the song that glorifies unending, thoughtless nights and all of a sudden, it's over and they're gone.
The second song of the encore almost manages to sum up the whole mystery that is the National; going from obvious statements ("sitting at the punch table swallowing punch"), to self-deprecating thoughts ("everything I love gets lost in drawers") to images and snapshots that make the listener smile ("I wanna [..] put on a slow, dumb show for you and crack you up"), Slow Show is slow-motion and fast forward through human impulses and emotions, with love, sadness, disappointment, thoughtfulness and self-reflection; it's the image of a generation condemned by bomb threats and boredom.
And as the concert comes to an end, why don't we try and forget who we are for a second? Why don't we close our eyes and do something wild, and crazy, pretending we are who we thought we would be, or that we can be who we used to be? A couple of minutes into Mr. November, this charismatic and weird character climbs down the stage, unaware of musicians and technicians stretching the mic cable to the extreme so it doesn't get tangled, and walks through the audience. His first and last acknowledgment of an adoring public is to remind us that we all had our moment of being "in our best clothes", that we all thought at one point we'd be "the new blue blood"; but can we touch that feeling with a finger again, that feeling of being invulnerable? As he stands on the edge, he sings "It takes an ocean not to break". And all of a sudden, we feel infinite. All photos by Nikolaus Ostermann -